The next stop in town, before heading back to the inns and doing a final gear pack, was taking time to visit the Qikiqtarjuaq’s Department of Parks office.
There’s a small wildlife museum next door to the office with traditional Inuit clothing and a small sampling of stuffed animals. After seeing the polar bear carcass in the middle of town, I had to look away.
What did excite me was the park passes each of us received showing we were officially registered to trek through the Akshayuk Pass. It’s not like anyone would be there to check our pass but it was nice knowing my name was part of the park’s history.
After our short walk back to the inn, we had time for a late lunch – a delicious grilled cheese sandwich that I ate as slowly as possible. As I dipped the edges in ketchup and felt the texture of the bread on my tongue, I knew my ten-pound bag of individually wrapped meal packs ranging from oatmeal to a variety of hydrogenated dinners were a sad but necessary part of the adventure.
When the komatiks pulled up outside the inn, these petty thoughts vanished and I excitedly strapped my Go Pro camera to my chest. I couldn’t wait to take pictures and use my voice activated Hero 7. The latest model had amazing stabilization capabilities, something that would come in handy if our wooden sleighs couldn’t absorb the rough terrain.
After lots of jostling for place and trying to get as comfortable and warm in the komatik as possible, I realized I was completely delusional.
The three-hour trek would be flipping awful. My elbows and shoulders crumbled as they hit the sides of the sleigh, each time I tried to sit up or stop the shuttering motions from the high speed at which we traveled.
Natalie, a former military medic who had deployed overseas to Afghanistan, sat directly behind me. She was squished and probably suffered more than I did but said nothing. When the sleigh started to really crack and wobble at one point, we heard a loud noise and the driver immediately slowed down.
Kim and Teresa, who sat directly across from Natalie and me, popped up. Kim is with the Airforce and ridiculously smart. Just the evening before she had given me a lesson in astronomy. Teresa, a fellow writer and outdoorswoman, tried to yell over at us but her voice was muffled by the neck scarf pulled over her nose.
I suspected we had some kind of mechanical glitch and hoped it wasn’t serious. The thought of returning to town and waiting another night to head to the Pass was depressing. But then I started thinking what if the komatik was really damaged and we were stuck out here in the dark – the middle of nowhere, as far as I was concerned.
I wiggled my toes hoping to encourage some blood flow and renewed sensation but I found it difficult to do under the weight of my heavy boots. I wished I had worn another pair of long johns and the recommended snow pants on top of my Arteryx pants, even though my sleeping bag served as a comfy blanket to help keep the heat in.
Of course, I had neglected to pack the extra snow pants, swapping them out for extra battery packs and weightier electronics that now seemly unimportant. Our duffle bags could not exceed the 50-pound duffle weight limit so I stupidly chose camera gear over warm clothing. Note to self – dumb move!!
The komatik came to a stop as the sun took its last bow in the sky. My eye goggles kept the upper portion of my face warm but steam up every time I breathed too hard through my noise. The condensation from my neck warmer pushed the hot air through the small cracks and made it impossible to see.
As the drivers gathered together in front of our komatik, we all sat quietly waiting for bad news. But within minutes, another engine roared into sight and helped to make some quick engineering adjustments that miraculously fixed our broken sleigh. Every minute counted if we wanted to make it to camp by 11 p.m. so I felt a huge sense of relief wash over me.
The team stopped to have the broken komatuk sleigh fixed.
We all had lots of time to think during our three-hour trek to the Pass. The blinding snow and near white-out conditions came and went, reminding us of the weather’s unpredictability.
It wasn’t until we arrived at our first campsite and saw the tents neatly assembled in a row that I felt my shoulders ease.
All we had to do was literally lift ourselves up from the sled, grab our night bag, and park our duffle bag next to our assigned tent. This part was easy as I crawled into the red tent and quickly set up my sleeping system of mattresses. I left my clothes, even my windbreaker pants, and put my big down jacket over the end of my bag. I rummaged through my night bag to find my yellow bottle marked “Rose’s pee bottle” before I crawled into my cold sleeping bag. We had arrived.
I lay immobilized on my thermal mat and inflated bedrest. I was finally warm and grateful. Tomorrow would be a new day of experiences and challenges. Little did I know that over the next two days, our snowshoeing expedition would be the most difficult two days of the trek for me.
Reality started to set in as I lay awake. I could see a slice of the sky and felt the cold air from the vented top panels of our tent. I started thinking of all kinds of paranoid things that rushed through my mind. Would I be able to really do this? What if I didn’t sleep tonight? What if I held the group back? What if I had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and spilled my pee bottle? I think this last question was even more frightening than the thought of polar bears smelling our camp and attacking us at night.
As the wind gently rock our red tent forward and backward, I realized how much we are at the mercy of nature. It was about survival now and learning to let go. I wanted to conquer my fears and hoped to have some deeper conversations with myself. But to do this, I’d have to make it through the first night and the pretty grueling challenges that lay ahead.